Author Archives: From Poverty to Power

Loneliness, Love, Anger and Activism

Spent a morning at the Ashridge Business School Masters in Sustainability and Responsibility last week. The School is extraordinary – a Hogwarts-esque stately home full of statues and vaulted ceilings, formerly Henry VIII’s crib, set in a country park dotted with croquet lawns and mighty oaks. The conversation was also pretty good – 15 Masters students from every continent/walk of life. Only a couple of …

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Ditching the Masterplan. How can Urban Development become ‘Politically smart, locally led’?

Guest post from Harry Jones and Bishnu Adhikari, both of Palladium on what urban aid and development can learn from the Doing Development Differently movement The international development community has come some way in grappling with complex problems, but urban development has lagged behind. Urban programmes systematically underperform according to their own results frameworks and internal evaluations. The failures are probably already familiar to those …

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Are top academic and aid institutions getting away with bad writing?

Guest post from the ODI’s Caroline Cassidy I almost choked on my porridge last week when I read about the World Bank’s chief economist Paul Romer being sidelined for wanting his team to communicate more clearly. I re-read the article to check I wasn’t missing something, but there it was: Romer had pushed his staff to write more clearly ‘asking for shorter emails and insisting …

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How will we know if the SDGs are having any impact?

As long time readers of the blog will know, I’ve been a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) sceptic since long before they were even agreed. However, I’ve been hearing a fair amount about them recently – people telling me that governments North and South, companies and city administrations are using them to frame public commitments and planning and reporting against them. So maybe it’s time to …

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Empowerment and Accountability in Messy Places. Need your advice on Nigeria, Pakistan, Myanmar…

My post-book research plans are shaping up, so it’s time to ask for your advice. As well as the work I blogged about recently on Public Authority in fragile/conflict-affected settings, I’m doing some research with Oxfam and Itad on how ‘adaptive management’ plays out in those same settings. Here’s the blurb: ‘There is much hype and attention given to new models of development programming that …

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The case against optimism: A Harvard Law Prof critiques How Change Happens

Last week I had the ‘on the psychotherapist’s couch’ experience of having the assumptions behind How Change Happens put under the microscope by two very big brains – Harvard’s David Kennedy and LSE’s Stephen Humphreys. This was part of a joint LSE/ODI seminar on ‘new experimentalism’ (which seems to be the legal studies equivalent of Adaptive Management).  I thought their critiques were brilliant (and lyrical …

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There was never a better time for the US to leave global climate talks

Op-ed by Tim Gore, Head of Policy, Advocacy and Research of Oxfam’s GROW Campaign Oxfam began campaigning for a global climate agreement in 2007. We have sent teams to every COP and every single negotiating session ever since. Along with many partners and allies, we have held stunts, published papers, generated media coverage, lobbied incessantly and mobilised many many thousands of people to push governments …

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The imaginary advocate, the benefits of Command and Control, and why I’m just channelling…

Continuing the download from the recent LSE-ODI workshop on ‘new experimentalism’ was this thought-provoking description by David Kennedy of the ‘imaginary advocate’, the assumed individual behind How Change Happens and, by extension, a lot of NGO advocacy. Might be a very interesting addition to the endless awaydays, strategic planning processes etc to ask people to try and spell out the imaginary subjects of their own …

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Draft Paper on Adaptive Management in Oxfam – all comments welcome

With a few important exceptions, large international NGOs have been pretty absent from the global conversation about ‘Doing Development Differently’, but are they doing it anyway and just skipping the meetings? To find out, a group of LSE Masters Students analysed a bunch of case studies of Oxfam programmes claiming to pursue ‘adaptive management’ approaches. Their report is so interesting that we want to publish …

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What does Feminist Social Innovation look like?

Guest post from Chloe Safier In the global development world, there are a lot of conversations about social innovation and (separately) a lot of discussions about feminist approaches to development and women’s rights. Social innovation labs, incubators and accelerators are popping up everywhere, from San Francisco to Beirut to Delhi. Major development actors like the Gates Foundation are issuing ‘challenges’ to advance innovation and cultivate …

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Can Hegel (and Geoff Mulgan) chart a new progressive agenda?

Geoff Mulgan is one of the UK’s most original thinkers about the future of society. He set up the thinktank Demos, advised the early Blair government, and now runs NESTA (an ‘innovation foundation). According to Wikipedia he even trained as a Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka. I recently came across his essay on a progressive response to Brexit, Trump etc – it’s brilliant, and although …

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‘I don’t need a Plan, I need a better Radar’ – how can we rethink Strategic Planning?

I was in Washington this week helping the International Budget Partnership think about its future direction. There’s a certain rhythm to these exercises – some research on external trends, consultation with partners and staff, maybe bring in some outside facilitators, then sit down and say ‘so what should we be doing differently?’ These days, there is often an initial session on complexity and systems thinking, but …

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Why is life in fragile/conflict states not more ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and…

Thomas Hobbes argued that states are essential to guarantee security. In their absence there would be a ‘war of all against all’ in which life would be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’. But in most fragile and conflict affected areas, that degree of bloodbath is strikingly absent – individuals, families and communities find ways to survive and resolve disputes in ways that stop short …

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Why rethinking how we work on market systems and the private sector is really hard

Whatever your ideological biases about ‘the private sector’ (often weirdly conflated with transnational corporations in NGO-land), markets really matter to poor people (feeding families, earning a living, that kind of thing).  But ‘making markets work for the poor’ turns out to be really difficult and, just as with attempts to tackle corruption or improve institutions, there is a rethink going on in the aid business. …

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